Tomorrow marks the 30th anniversary of the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre and the Chinese Communist Party is moving heaven and earth to ensure that the people of China do not read anything about one of the blackest moments of their regime’s long and grim history.
The Tiananmen Square massacre
For those not familiar with the event, on June 4th 1989, student protestors in Beijing were rising up to call for democracy across the city. The protests were centred on Tiananmen Square, a square in the centre of Beijing close to the Forbidden City and home to the mausoleum of Communist dictator Mao Zedong.
It is thought that there were around a million people in the square when the tanks of the ironically-named People’s Liberation Army rolled in. What followed was a bloodbath in the square and across the city as the army mowed down their own people.
The total death toll is unclear but conservative estimates put it in the tens of thousands. It is likely to have been a great deal higher.
Even since the body of the last protestor was removed, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been covering up what happened. While it is common knowledge in much of the world, inside China almost no-one knows the truth about what happened and the CCP are keen to keep it that way.
They already have tight control on all media outlets in China and their vast internet censorship and surveillance apparatus is also well-primed to keep all online discussion of the topic blocked or deleted too.
This crackdown always peaks around the time of the anniversary but this years is a big one and the censorship machine has gone into overdrive.
Most western social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are already blocked in China for refusing to censor content about things like the Tiananmen Square massacre. Chinese social media is already tightly controlled by the regime but at the moment things are even worse.
Sites like WeChat and Weibo are currently blocking all users from changing their profile pictures and personal details. Video sites like Bilibili are also stopping all real-time comments.
Users are reporting that many messages are being either blocked or seriously delayed while they are individually checked by China’s army of censors.
It is thought that 700 additional phrases, including ones such as ‘Tank Man’ a reference to the famous photo of a protestor standing up to a tank, have also been added to China’s lengthy list of prohibited terms.
Even sites unavailable in China have been affected. Twitter has apologized after being found to have blocked hundreds of account critical of the Chinese regime in the run-up to the anniversary.
As Lokman Tsui, a Hong Kong-based professor told Bloomberg, “It’s not a coincidence… There are moments like this when censorship becomes more broad and crude again because tech companies don’t want to take a risk.”
VPNs are also affected
The crackdown has even affected VPN users in China. Connecting to a VPN is the only way to bypass the Communist regime’s Great Firewall censorship technology and access uncensored content and blocked websites.
They are widely used but in recent times the regime has been clamping down hard on their usage. It is now officially illegal to use VPNs in China and authorities have begun to clamp down hard on individuals and businesses who are flouting the ban.
They have also worked hard to try and block access to all VPNs that refuse to comply with their censorship and surveillance demands. For many VPNs, that means they no longer work in China.
But a few, such as ExpressVPN and 12VPN have been able to use different techniques to evade the Communist regimes efforts to shut them down.
That hasn’t stopped them trying of course and in recent weeks they have ramped up their efforts. They have enjoyed some success too.
ExpressVPN has confirmed on Twitter that some of its users in China have been experiencing connectivity problems.
They assure users they are working to fix them and have updated their list of recommended servers which now includes Hong Kong (4), USA – Los Angeles (5), USA – Santa Monica, Singapore – Marina Bay, and UK – Wembley. But whether they will be able to resolve the issue before the end of tomorrow remains to be seen.
Their recommendations for users in China is to update to the latest version of their app. They suggest Windows and Mac users should try their newly-released beta apps and all users should set their protocol to automatic. They also suggest avoiding disconnecting if at all possible.
We would fully endorse all of ExpressVPN’s recommendations and would suggest that users of other VPNs check with their providers if they are also experiencing problems.
But do persist with your VPNs. It is vital for the future of China that information continues to be able to disseminate among the people.
And it is even more vital that as many Chinese people as possible know the truth about the Tiananmen Square massacre and exactly what brutality the Communist regime wrought against its own people.
Find out more: Read our Best VPN for China 2019 guide.